Short term school closures for covid-related incidents seem inevitable for schools this year. These short term closures are just another way that educators are being asked to be flexible while we all learn how to navigate this new world of education that we find ourselves in. While the numbers say that 51% of our students need to engage in learning during closures in order for those days to “count”, as educators we should want so much more for our students than just having those days count on the calendar. While it is true that having students present in classrooms where a live teacher is available to teach lessons, give feedback, and engage with students is often the best option for most students, with the possibility of a closure that style of teaching and learning will need to shift.
The Agency of Education’s Continuity of Learning Task Force wrote in a recent report that “teachers need to rethink their roles, not as content experts that transmit knowledge, but as coaches that facilitate student learning,” (COL Task Force, 2020). When students and teachers cannot be in the classroom together, there must be a shift in how learning is facilitated from teacher directed to how students and teachers can become partners in student learning. Vermont rules limit the amount of time that students are required to engage in school directed learning on days when school is closed. For students in kindergarten the limit is two hours, for grades 1 and 2 it increases to four hours and grades 3-8 the time increases further to five and a half hours. Within those time limits there is a great amount of flexibility in what students are doing to engage in learning during those times. The focus on learning time outside of the classroom should not just be on replicating school within the home setting, and quite frankly that is often a near impossible task. With parents who might not be able to take time off of work, and students who cannot access their device for online learning, many aspects of school in the classroom do not work in a home environment. Rather than as an inconvenience, this out of school learning can be looked at as an opportunity for students to engage in independent learning that connects to both proficiencies and cross curricular skills.
A menu of learning opportunities for students to engage with when schools are closed can consist of more than worksheets. Encouraging students to get creative with their learning, and dive deeper into areas of interests can foster a love of learning not often found through math fact sheets. Independent, project based learning “has been shown to increase student engagement, offer interdisciplinary learning opportunities and give students opportunities to practice collaboration and critical-thinking skills that are in high demand in the modern workplace,” (Matthewson, 2020). Perhaps, as educators, we can view short term school closures as an opportunity to modify the way that we are asking our students to learn, giving us a chance to get to know our students better by experiencing their passions and interests through their eyes. Encouraging a student to identify an area of interest and then spend time learning more about it, across multiple areas of the curriculum, can help to engage even a student who is hesitant to participate in learning outside of the classroom. When teachers can help to facilitate independent learning, positive student-adult relationships are encouraged and students have the opportunity to take ownership of their work while still demonstrating proficiency based learning progressions.
It is clear that the Covid-19 pandemic has asked educators to be creative and to step outside the comfort zones of more traditional teacher-directed education. However, if we can look at this shift as an opportunity to change our practice and how we best meet our students’ needs while increasing student engagement and fostering proficiencies and cross-curricular learning, it can be a positive experience for everyone.
Matthewson, Tara. (2020). Project Based Learning Gets Its Moment During The Coronavirus. https://hechingerreport.org/project-based-learning-gets-its-moment-during-the-coronavirus/